- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 6, 2002

ANNAPOLIS The Court of Appeals ordered a new trial yesterday for Clarence Conyers Jr., who was sentenced to die for the 1994 murder of his estranged girlfriend's mother in Baltimore County.
By a 5-2 margin, the court said the state failed to disclose to the defense important information about the testimony of Charles Johnson, a cellmate who testified that Conyers admitting killing Wanda Johnson during a robbery at her home.
The majority opinion said the prosecution "was an active participant in the 'smoke and mirrors' effort to mislead [Conyers] and the jury as to the full circumstances preceding and precipitating Johnson's plea agreement."
The opinion by Judge Glenn T. Harrell said the state did not at any time tell Conyers' attorneys or the jury that Johnson was awaiting trial on a 19-count armed-robbery indictment and that he was allowed to plead guilty to one misdemeanor charge of conspiracy to commit robbery.
"We hold that the taint of the suppression matters on this record so undermines our confidence in the murder convictions and death sentence that a new trial is in order," the opinion read.
A dissenting opinion by Judge Dale Cathell said the ruling "is a result of looking for justification that, in actuality, does not exist."
While the majority said the jury should have been told that Johnson asked for a "favor" in return for his testimony, the dissenting opinion said it is almost "universally understood that plea bargaining constitutes favors."
"When the jury was informed of the plea agreement, it, impliedly, was informed that a give-and-take process for Johnson's testimony had been undertaken and been consummated," Judge Cathell wrote.
Wanda Johnson, no relation to Charles Johnson, was shot three times in the head in her Baltimore County home Oct. 21, 1994. Conyers was charged with her murder as well as that of Lawrence Bradshaw, believed to be an accomplice in the robbery. Bradshaw was shot and killed two days later.
The trial was moved to Wicomico County, where a jury convicted Conyers on both charges and gave him the death penalty for Mrs. Johnson's murder and life without parole for Mr. Bradshaw's murder.
During a long series of appeals, the Court of Appeals at one point reversed the death penalty. Conyers was again sentenced to death, and the sentence was upheld a second time by the court.
But on another appeal a year ago, a new attorney raised the issue of whether the prosecution had withheld information on Johnson's testimony that should have been given to the defense and the jury.
The Circuit Court rejected that argument, but the appeals court agreed with Conyers' attorney and sent the case back to Wicomico County for another trial.
With Conyers' death sentence overturned, there are now 12 persons held in the state prison system under a penalty of death.Steven H. Oken is scheduled to be executed by injection next month, and state officials say three others have exhausted appeals and could be executed in the next few months.


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